Authors: Grant Blackwood
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #War, #United States, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Military, #Suspense, #Thrillers
Wellesley let out a sigh. Spellman set his cup on the coffee table and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “We think Seth’s gotten himself into trouble. We want to help him.”
“Listen, I don’t even know who you are, but I’ve read enough John le Carré novels to make a guess. You don’t have to tell me all your secrets, but if Seth’s in trouble, I need to know what’s going on.”
“No, you don’t,” replied Wellesley. “I suggest you—”
Spellman raised a hand to cut off his colleague. “Hang on a second, Raymond. Okay, Jack, that’s fair. I’m going to stick my neck out. Don’t chop it off, okay? I got kids to feed.” Spellman gave him a sheepish grin.
Jack found himself not disliking Spellman—which was probably the point, he reminded himself.
“I’ll do my best, Matt.”
“We’ve had an op going for the past year or so. Seth’s been running it for us, but it’s got nothing to do with Iran. Something else. After you two had lunch he was supposed to come here for a sit-down, an update meeting. When he didn’t show, we checked his apartment. He hasn’t been staying there. The super said he’s been collecting Seth’s mail for almost a month.” Spellman hesitated and glanced at Wellesley, who gave him a slight nod. “He’s also taken some money—our operational fund. And we think he left the country.”
Jack thought. Spellman wasn’t kidding; Seth was in deep trouble. Was Seth, his old high school buddy, what he seemed to be?
Too many questions,
Jack almost forgot to ask the next obvious question, one he knew they wouldn’t answer but one a civilian would certainly ask: “What do you mean, ‘op’? You mean operation? What kind? To what end?”
Spellman gave him another disarming smile. “Sorry, that’s need-to-know stuff. Suffice to say, we’re the good guys.”
“You’re kidding with this, right? This can’t be real.”
“This is quite real, Mr. Ryan,” said Wellesley. “You’ll agree the circumstances don’t look good for your friend. Of course, all this could be a misunderstanding—”
“Crossed wires,” Spellman added.
“—which is why it’s imperative we find Mr. Gregory.”
“No, hey, I get it,” said Jack. “All I’ve got is his cell-phone number and e-mail address, but I’m guessing you’ve got those, too.”
“What are they?” asked Spellman. Jack recited them and Spellman nodded. “Yeah, those are right.”
“I don’t believe Seth would do something like what you’re talking about. You’re suggesting he’s a traitor, a spy.”
“People change,” Spellman replied.
“That’s not the Seth I know.”
“You’re familiar with the apple-tree aphorism, I assume?” said Wellesley.
“What, about one not falling far from the other? What the hell does that mean? Are you talking about Seth’s dad? He worked for the Department of Agriculture, for God’s sake.”
Jack stood up. “I’ve told you everything I know. If I hear from him, I’ll tell him to call you. For the record, I think you’re wrong.”
Spellman and Wellesley stood up as well. The American said, “Hang on, Jack . . .”
“No, I’m done.” Jack headed for the door.
Wellesley called, “Mr. Ryan.”
Jack turned around.
“If you’re lying to us, or you try to reach out to your friend behind our backs, we’ll know about it. If that happens, your father’s influence will only go so far.”
“Are you threatening me?”
The SIS man was doing just that, Jack knew, and he wasn’t particularly surprised by it, given the alleged stakes. Still, the natural reaction of his public persona, Jack Ryan, Jr., First Son and workaday financial analyst, would be one of outrage and fear.
Give them what they expect.
“I told you what I know. Seth and I had lunch for about an hour. End of story.”
Spellman raised his hands in surrender and stepped around the couch. “Hey, Jack, you’re probably right. We just need to find him, that’s all. You’re his friend and you probably want to protect him. I’d feel the same. But you really don’t want to get in the middle of this. Just get ahold of us if you hear from him. Use the e-mail on Raymond’s card. And don’t go hunting for him, Jack.”
Raymond Wellesley said, “Very good advice, that.”
• • •
AS SOON AS
he stepped out onto the street, he took a deep breath, trying to wrap his head around what had just happened, then started walking. The cool spring air felt good on his face.
God damn it,
Can’t be. Not Seth.
Spellman’s warning about not getting involved had barely registered with Jack.
Not help Seth? No way.
The question was, Where the hell should he start?
As crazy as the man had been, James Jesus Angleton, Cold War CIA spyhunter and raging paranoid, had gotten it right when he assigned the Yeats line “wilderness of mirrors” to the world of intelligence and espionage. The fact that Jack could still remember the poem was either a testament to or an indictment of his Catholic-school upbringing.
Jack’s next thought about the meeting would have made Angleton proud:
Are Raymond Wellesley and Matthew Spellman who they claim to be? And if not, who are they? And if . . .
Jack commanded himself. Those kinds of spiraling questions would drop him squarely down the rabbit hole. He needed facts. He needed a foundation he could stand on.
First: Know who he is dealing with.
Second: Find Seth Gregory before Wellesley and Spellman did.
HORT OF SPENDING
weeks tailing Spellman and Wellesley and trying to build a profile on each man, Jack had only one way of knowing their pedigrees. Tap into The Campus’s resources. But as there was no remote log-in portal to Hendley’s intelligence gold mine, he had to call in a favor.
Twenty minutes after he left the Zafaraniyeh apartment, the wheels were in motion.
• • •
the rest of the afternoon killing time, then had a dinner of lamb khoresh in the hotel restaurant, followed by two cups of espresso, before leaving and walking two blocks south, where he caught a taxi and set out for Niavaran Park.
The sun was setting when the taxi dropped him off at the park’s tree- and streetlight-lined southern entrance. As Jack made his way north deeper into the park he could hear strains of what sounded like Persian pop music and laughing. Improbably, Niavaran Park was not only the former home of the last shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, but also currently a public library and a roller-skating rink and teenage hangout. Jack resisted the urge to go watch the spectacle and made his way through the park to Pourebtehaj Street, the park’s northern border. From there, Seth’s apartment—the one Wellesley and Spellman didn’t know about—was a five-minute walk to the east.
The apartments here were built in the fifties, old but well-kept brownstones with fresh white paint and neat grass strips lining the sidewalks. Seth’s building was in the middle of the block. Jack walked to the far end, where he found a coffee shop. He took a seat near a window with a view of the building and ordered a cup of decaf tea.
He started watching.
• • •
TWENTY MINUTES LATER,
after seeing only a trio of people out and about—two of them walking dogs, the third hurrying to catch a bus on the corner—Jack felt his phone vibrate in his jacket pocket. The screen read
Gavin Biery’s official title at The Campus was director of information technology, but he was also an information scrounger without equal. He hadn’t hesitated when Jack asked him to do an unofficial search into Wellesley and Spellman. He’d said nothing about Seth Gregory.
“Hey, Gavin, what’s up?”
“We’ve got sleet here. That’s what’s up.” Gavin wasn’t a fan of the outdoors, or weather, or things that didn’t involve computers, for that matter.
“Sorry to hear that. What’ve you got for me?”
“Raymond Lamont Wellesley and Matthew Spellman both look legit. They’ve got pretty vanilla titles, but you’d expect that. Wellesley is Foreign Office, no department or division named, which says something in itself, and Spellman is Department of State, Political Affairs, European and Eurasia.
“But once I dug a little deeper I started hitting layers of stuff that reeked of backstopping,” said Biery, referring to administrative details used to bulwark a cover identity. “I’ll keep digging.”
“No red flags?”
“Not so far. I’ll step lightly. Are you in trouble, Jack?”
“Just being overcautious. Probably nothing. Thanks, Gavin.”
He nursed his tea for another twenty minutes until satisfied the block was clear, then paid the tab and walked outside, across the street, and up the brownstone’s front steps. The outer foyer door was unlocked. He stepped through. Unlike the building’s nondescript façade, the foyer was pure Persian, with blue-and-white mosaic floor tiles and pristine white walls. He stood still for a few moments, listening, then took the stairs to the fourth floor and into the hallway. It was empty, lined on both sides with four apartment doors; Jack heard no sound filtering through them. He felt a prickle of apprehension on his neck. In an American apartment hallway you’d at least hear faint television noise. Different culture, Jack decided. He walked down the hallway, past Seth’s apartment door, number 406, and stopped at the fire exit, where he again stood still, listening. If he’d collected a tail here, they had two choices: wait until Jack emerged from the building again or come find him. Jack sat down on the windowsill, his back resting against the roman shade, and waited.
Hurry up and wait. It was a phrase both Clark and Ding had used many times. In both the military and intelligence work, patience was an indispensable virtue.
He waited ten minutes, then gave it an extra five minutes for caution’s sake, then returned to Seth’s door, pressed his ear to the door for a few moments, then inserted the key and turned the knob and stepped through. He turned the dead bolt back into place with a soft snick. Save the moonlight coming through a pair of windows on the other side of the room, the space was dark.
Gloves. Should have brought gloves.
In the corner of his left eye, he saw movement—a shadowed figure rushing down the side hall. Jack spun on his heel to face the charge. In rapid fire, Jack’s brain dissected the incoming attack: probably no gun, or the man wouldn’t be trying to close the gap; the man’s arms and hands were tucked close to his body, so probably no blade or blunt object. This kind of blind rush suggested Jack’s arrival had surprised him.
Now Jack’s brain switched to autopilot. He let the man cover a few more feet, then dodged right, off the line of attack, spun on his heel again, and twisted his body, slashing at the passing man with his elbow, catching him on the back of the head with a glancing blow. It wasn’t enough. The man turned, hunched in a fighter’s stance, and lashed out with a Muay Thai–style kick. His shin landed hard on Jack’s left thigh. Jack immediately felt his quadriceps muscle go numb. The kick wasn’t one of desperation reaction, Jack realized. His attacker had skill.
He stumbled backward, trying to regain his balance, trying to transfer weight onto his good leg, but the man charged again, backing him toward the windows. A back full of glass shards would end the fight, he knew. He sidestepped, a half-stumble, then took a step forward, ducked under the straight right punch from the man, then slammed his own right hook into the man’s ribs. The man staggered sideways. Jack’s damaged thigh felt dead. He wasn’t going to win this standing up.
He pushed off with his right leg and crashed into the man. Together they fell in a heap on the floor, the man pinned beneath Jack. The man turned onto his back, encircled Jack’s waist with his legs, and pulled his head down against his chest.
The man had Brazilian jiu-jitsu, too. If Jack didn’t extricate himself quickly, he’d no doubt find himself in a rear naked choke. Lose standing up, lose on the ground.
Do something, Jack.
The man slammed an elbow into Jack’s temple. Bright light flashed behind his eyes. He felt his body swaying sideways, saw blackness creeping into his vision. Knowing more strikes would be coming, Jack bracketed his head with his forearms, absorbing blows until he could right himself. He jerked back, breaking the man’s grip, then snapped his torso downward. His forehead smashed into the man’s cheekbone. Jack heard the soft crunch. The man shoved his arm up, palm-striking Jack’s chin. Jack felt the man’s fingers clawing up his face toward his eyes. He jerked his head sideways and broke the man’s grip.
Don’t let up,
Finish him before you go out.
He lifted his head again, brought it down again, then once more. Before his assailant could recover, Jack reached down blindly, grabbed the man’s ears, and slammed the back of his head against the hardwood floor. Then twice more until the man went limp.
Gasping, Jack rolled off the man and scooted sideways, disentangling himself from the man’s legs, and craned his neck until he could see down the hallway from where the man had charged. Thankfully, there was no one there; he was in no shape for another fight. His head throbbed and he could hear the rush of blood in his ears.
Half conscious, moving on instinct alone, Jack crawled over to the man, flipped him onto his belly, and pressed his left knee against his neck. The man didn’t move, made no sound. The hardwood beneath his head was slick with black blood. Jack reached down and felt the man’s throat for a carotid pulse. It was there, steady and strong.
Jack thought. While he’d killed before and accepted the necessity of it, he’d never liked the feeling. It always made him mildly queasy—a good thing, John Clark had told him: “When it has no effect on you, either when it happens or later, when you’re alone with your thoughts, you got a problem.” That admission from a man like Clark had surprised Jack, and he’d wondered if Hendley’s operations chief was becoming more reflective in his golden years. Of course,
wasn’t a term he ever uttered in Clark’s presence.
Jack realized his left thigh was twitching uncontrollably. He sat down on his butt, scooted himself backward over the floor, then began kneading the quadriceps muscle until finally the quivering subsided. Damn, that kick had been unlike anything Jack had ever felt. A second one would have dropped him. Time to do some Muay Thai training, Jack thought absently.
Had his attacker been surprised by his arrival, or had this been an ambush? One way to find out. Jack crawled to the man and frisked him. There was a wallet in the back pocket; Jack pulled it out and stuffed it into his front waistband. On the man’s right hip was a paddle holster; inside it, a nine-millimeter semi-auto. Jack ejected the magazine, found it full, then eased back the slide and saw there was a round in the pipe.
Jack thought. If this had been an ambush, the man would have been waiting, gun drawn. Even so, he’d had time to draw down on Jack. The man had probably panicked. Good dumb luck for Jack.
“Who the hell are you?” Jack muttered to the unconscious man. A question for later.
He withdrew the nine-millimeter and stuffed it into his jacket’s side pocket.
Jack pushed himself to his feet, limped over to the windows and drew the shades, then back to the door, where he flipped on the overhead light. Save a floor lamp in one corner, the room was empty. Jack walked over and unplugged the lamp, then jerked the cord free and used it to bind the man’s hands.
Jack made his way into the kitchenette off the main room and turned on the range hood light. He found a glass on the counter and filled it with water from the sink, drank it, then another. His hands were shaking. He put down the glass and clenched his fists until they were steady again.
He opened the mostly empty freezer and found a bag of frozen carrots. With it pressed against his thigh, he headed down the short hallway, where he found a bathroom, empty except for a bar of soap in the shower, a hand towel, and a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste sitting on the edge of the sink. In the medicine cabinet he found a bottle of what looked like Iranian-brand ibuprofen. He downed four of them, then inspected his face in the mirror. A half-dollar spot on his forehead was bright red and his right cheekbone was swollen and scraped. Could be a lot worse, Jack knew. He turned on the faucet, splashed water on his face, then wiped it once with the hand towel.
At the end of the hall was a bedroom containing a camping cot, a folding chair, and a card table with a flex-neck lamp clamped to its edge. The single window was covered by blackout curtains, their edges taped with silver duct tape. Only a ribbon of light showed through the center. In the corner sat a two-by-two-foot floor safe, its door closed.